Photo: Wikipedia Commons/André Zahn

Photo: Wikipedia Commons/André Zahn

Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was always going to be an unforgettable match. However, no one could have predicted the way the match unfolded Tuesday night.

Portugal’s two brightest stars were at the centre of a dramatic night at Old Trafford. Manchester United went into the match with a slight lead on away goals after playing to a 1-1 draw in Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo emerged from the tunnel amid roaring applause from the United faithful. Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up also included Portuguese international Fábio Coentrão at left-back.

Nani’s recent form earned him a start in Sir Alex Ferguson’s line-up but it was surely a night to forget for the Portuguese winger.

The two clubs played to a 0-0 draw at half-time with Manchester United getting the better scoring opportunities. The Red Devils defended admirably, reducing Cristiano Ronaldo space and time on the ball.

Early in the second half, Manchester United led by Danny Welbeck, Robin van Persie and Nani crowded Diego Lopez’s goal. Nani from the left side crossed the ball to Welbeck who kicked it towards Lopez. The ball deflects off Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos for the own goal.

At this point, it looked like Manchester United were in control of their destiny. But several minutes later, Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakιr would snatch it back from them.

In the 56th minute, Nani leaps to the air on a challenge and makes contact with Álvaro Albeloa. The referee gives Arbeloa the free kick and Nani remains on the ground for several seconds. After getting to his feet, the referee Çakιr gives the Portuguese international a straight red.

The decision seemed to shock everyone. Ferguson dashes to the sideline in anger as Nani slowly makes his way to the dugout leaving United down to ten men.

Though, Nani did seem to foul Arbeloa with a somewhat careless challenge, few people will argue that a straight red was warranted.

The play was very similar to Nigel de Jong’s challenge on Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso in the 2010 World Cup Final. A play that English referee Howard Webb did not penalize, despite Alonso being shaken up on the play.

After this incident, Real Madrid which had been fairly timid until that point, suddenly sprang to life. Substitute Luka Modrić scored a beautiful long-range goal in the 66th minute to put the two clubs even on aggregate.

Three minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo capitalized on a well-timed cross from Gonzalo Higuain for the go-ahead goal. This moment which would normally dominate the headlines following the match, now an afterthought.

This incident follows a series of poor decisions in the Champions League over the last few years that have altered the outcome of important matches.

In 2011, Pepe who came on as a substitute in this match was sent off after a phantom challenge on Barcelona’s Dani Alves. Video review confirmed that Pepe barely made contact with Alves.

Also in 2011, Robin van Persie who was at Arsenal then, received a red card against Barcelona after kicking the ball into the net after the play was blown dead.

Video review confirmed that van Persie kicked the ball only a second after the whistle was blown for the offside call. The play technically constitutes as ‘time wasting,’ but it is rarely called in matches.

Mourinho openly admitted after the match to journalist that “United deserved to win.”

“Ferguson must feel the same way I did two years ago when Pepe was expelled. In that match it was a complete simulation, but there was hard contact on Arbeloa that could have been resolved with a yellow,” Mourinho added.

Cristiano Ronaldo stated that he was happy with the result but understands that his club are very fortunate. “I am happy that we advanced but I am sad for them because they deserved more,” the goalscorer said.

Ronaldo also spoke about the warm welcome he received from United fans. “What the United fans did tonight I will never forget in my life. I have to thank them,” Ronaldo added.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Nani did not speak to the media after the match.

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